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» Scarleteen Boards: 2000 - 2014 (Archive) » SCARLETEEN CENTRAL » Sex in Media: Books, Magazines, Films, TV & More » Inaccurate information

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Author Topic: Inaccurate information
Member # 51804

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I was just watching Embarrassing Bodies: Teen Special (Channel 4, UK) and they basically said that first time "sex" (aka vaginal intercourse) hurting was normal and the hymen breaks during said first time "sex". Though they did go on to qualify that sex hurting over time wasn't normal and could be a medical problem (and apparently 30% of women in the UK have painful sex semi-regularly); I feel they were generally perpetuating the whole hymen/painful first time myth.

This is pretty common on so-called medical or sex-ed TV shows and it's really infuriating. Not only is the sex-ed in the classroom lacking and popular media perpetuating such myths; but so are shows involving actual doctors.

I wrote a complaint:
I am writing to complain about misinformation on the programme Embarrassing Bodies: Teen Special.

At one point in the show, the concept of first time vaginal intercourse hurting being normal and of the hymen breaking during first time vaginal intercourse was brought up. Both of these points are harmful and problematic.

Whilst first time vaginal intercourse may hurt, this is usually due to things such as lack of lubrication, being nervous or not relaxed or aroused enough, or not taking enough time; and can therefore largely be prevented. By implying that first time vaginal intercourse will be painful, you are making it more likely that young people will believe this, and will put up with painful sex that they do not need to have. Whilst you made clear that continued pain during sex can indicate a medical problem, I feel that it could have been so much clearer about what "normal" is and that painful sex is not okay (especially when it is not a medical issue).

The information on the hymen is also inaccurate: the body part in question is called the corona and is a stretchy membrane. It is not brittle and does not break; it generally wears away over time. Again, by perpetuating the myth that the "hymen" breaks during first time vaginal intercourse, you are putting the potential healthy, happy sex lives of women, and men, at risk.

I urge you to refuse to allow the further perpetuation of these harmful myths, and provide more accurate, up to date information in future.


If anyone wants to comment on my complaint before I send it, that would be appreciated.

Also, thank you again to Scarleteen; I'm pretty sure the ONLY place I've ever got comprehensive sex education.

Posts: 134 | From: UK | Registered: Jan 2011  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Scarleteen Volunteer
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Kudos to you for writing in to them with a complaint. Channel 4 is the same channel that does "The Sex Education Show" and "The Joy of Teen Sex", isn't it (I don't live in the UK)? I know those two series have been criticized as well for their inaccurate information.

I'd say your letter looks good, and to be honest, I wouldn't change anything about it. It's very well-worded and gets your point across really clearly.

"Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing." -Arundhati Roy

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Executive Director & Founder
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You're awesome! Good on you for speaking up.

I think your complaint looks spot-on, and so great, though you might want to provide them some references to look at on those issues, too? If you want three quick and dirty sources that address both of those issues, you could cite us, Our Bodies, Ourselves (The Boston Women's Health Collective) and the RSFU, the Swedish sex education organization who has been working hard to address hymen myths.

Also, do you know who Dr. Petra Boynton is? She's a fantastic sex educator and writer in the UK who I know has been calling out Channel 4 a lot on another series of theirs (Joy of Teen Sex).

Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
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Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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Member # 51804

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Yes, Channel 4 does The Sex Education Show and The Joy of Teen Sex; it's a real shame, because they do offer some good documentaries, but their health stuff is awful.

Thank you both for your support, and I will add those references Heather, thanks.

I did hear about her when The Joy of Teen Sex was in the spotlight; looking her up again now.

Complaint sent [Smile] .

Posts: 134 | From: UK | Registered: Jan 2011  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
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Ditto. Well done for writing this!

I'm curious, what do you think about "Embarrassing Teenage Bodies" in general? I am conflicted. On the one hand, I'm glad they normalise sensitive issues which many young people face, letting them know that they're not alone and encourage them to seek help. On the other hand, they do have doctors sometimes perpetuating misinformation or presenting personal opinion as fact. I went off this programme when they did one which I thought encouraged labiaplasty and presented having long inner lips as being abnormal and "excess skin".

"Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation and that is an act of political warfare."

Audre Lorde

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Member # 51804

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I don't know. The general premise that if you're worried about your health, you should go to a doctor and not let embarrassment stop you from doing that is a good one. And I'm sure they've shown some things that some people didn't consider to be a medical problem which they can now get treated. But, like you say and is demonstrated by today's programme, they can perpetuate misinformation; plus despite them saying this is, and trying to make it, a programme about looking after yourself and good health, it can at times be comparable to a freak show. And clearly the participants in the show (or at least some of them) are essentially being paid (either with money, and/or, more likely, private treatment) to expose themselves and their medical problems to the world; which I find pretty ethically iffy. I'm sure there is a more ethical and accurate way to present their basic message; unfortunately I'm also sure it would attract fewer viewers.

(on a completely separate note; I always find it odd that people say "oh, the doctor's seen it all before" to imply people shouldn't be embarrassed: I know if I'm embarrassed about going to a doctor, it's definitely NOT about how the doctor's feeling. Kind of a "the doctor may have seen hundreds of Xs before, but I haven't had hundreds of people look at MINE before" thing)

Posts: 134 | From: UK | Registered: Jan 2011  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator

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